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UMS offers new financial aid program

The University of Maine system (UMS) is starting a new financial aid program for students on several campuses: Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Augusta and Machias. The new program would eliminate out-of-pocket tuition and fees beginning in the fall semester of 2018 for any first-year in-state student who qualifies for a need-based federal Pell grant.

Chairman of the board of trustees, Jim Erwin, told the Portland Press Herald, “These campus programs represent exactly the kind of focus we need on innovation, debt reduction, and workforce to achieve two of our highest priorities: student success and economic development.”

Students accepted into the program for this type of aid will pay their Pell grant money toward tuition and fees, and will not be responsible for any outstanding balance. Students will still be required to pay for room and board, textbooks and other miscellaneous costs; however, they will qualify for work-study jobs and other aid to cover those expenses. A Pell grant covers approximately $5,775 per year in costs, and tuition and fees across the four campuses are averaged at $7,500. Room and board is estimated at $8,000. Unlike loans, Pell grants do not have to be repaid.

Pell grants are given on a level-of-need basis to students based on cost of attendance and how much the government calculates their family can contribute to tuition costs.

According to the Bangor Daily News (BDN), the hope for the program is to draw more Maine residents to the system’s smaller campuses. University of Maine at Presque Isle(UMPI) President Raymond Rice told the BDN that he hopes that these students will earn their degrees and stick around Maine, specifically rural Maine in Aroostook County, to meet the needs of the county and spark economic growth.

The financial aid program has several conditions. These include a minimum of 30 credit hours per year, a four-year graduation track and maintenance of at least a 2.0 grade point average. If they are unable to meet those requirements, their federal Pell grant will still stand; however, their campus-based financial aid support will be at risk.

The four campuses engaging in this program already have among the lowest annual tuition rates in the system at $6,840 per year. The highest tuition is at the flagship campus in Orono at $8,580, followed by UMaine Farmington at $8,576 and the University of Southern Maine at $7,860.

UMPI school officials have launched a marketing push on their campus with the focus of finishing a four-year degree in four years. This campaign is called “Finish in 4,” and it stresses that taking less than 30 credits per year will make it highly unlikely for students to finish their degrees on time. It also emphasizes that every extra year of college can cost approximately $50,000 between continued college expenses and lost salary. The Orono campus launched a similar campaign several years ago called “Think 30” with the effort of boosting the number of students earning their degree on time and eliminating more debt.

Chancellor James Page told the BDN that if the financial aid program proves successful, it has the potential to expand in the system and to more Maine residents.

Across the UMS, about 1,000 students are currently expected to be eligible for the program. The program comes just as a six-year tuition freeze in the UMS is broken.

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